Marketing a hospital to those in the neighbourhood is often looked upon as the ‘low hanging fruit’ by many a marketer. The thinking goes something like this. ‘We have just started a great hospital and those in the neighbourhood cannot help but notice the swanky chrome and glass exteriors and the blazing signages on the top of the 10 floor edifice. We have world beating technology and some of the most competent and respected doctors joining us. We are streets ahead of all those who have been in this neighbourhood for years and we really do not consider them as competition. All those who have been living in this community will now flock to us.’
Honestly, this is a recipe for disaster, yet so many of us marketers are so blinded by our spanking new hospital that we do not see anything beyond it.
Members of the local community are not going to queue outside a hospital just because it has opened its doors in their community. They have existing relationships, habits and healthcare consumption patterns that they have been comfortable with for years. A new hospital needs to make a serious effort to engage with them and persuade them to give the new hospital a try.
Some of the things that I have learnt, while being involved in the launch of 5 hospitals in the last few years in and around Delhi involve strategies for creating awareness, engagement and a uniquely differentiated experience to those in the neighbourhood.
Local communities will start taking an interest in the hospital if the hospital takes the initiative to engage with them. At the Artemis Health Institute in Gurgaon we started a program, which involved conducting a healthcamp in the condominiums in the neighbourhood of the hospital. The camps were held with clockwork regularity for more than a year. In the initial stages I would often go myself and hang out with the residents, while they met the doctors and underwent basic tests. I and other members of my sales team would talk about the hospital’s facilities, services and the like without making it apparent that we were actually delivering a sales pitch. I would also meet the office bearers of the the local condo associations and discuss over a cup of tea as to how the hospital can be a part of the life of the local community. Since most of them were elderly folks who would need healthcare, this was generally a topic of great and often personal interest.
We soon hit upon an idea that in communities where the numbers of the elderly were large, we may set up small clinics with in the community. The clinic was run from a small room provided by the community and we would send a doctor for a few hours per day. The community also allowed us to advertise the clinic, which created greater awareness about the clinic and by association of the hospital. Soon we started getting referrals from these clinics and the emergency calls too increased. Buoyed by the success of the experiment we set up a few more clinics and with in a year we were getting calls from various communities asking us to open these clinics in their communities. The good word spread quickly.
At Artemis we also started awareness programs called ‘Public Forums’, which were lectures delivered by our doctors. We would advertise the lecture let us say on ‘back ache’ through print ads in local newspaper supplements and handbills. We would hold the lectures on Sunday mornings in the hospital auditorium and would typically have over 200 people from local communities attend. The sessions will include a lecture followed by a lively question and answer session with the experts and end with a light lunch. We discovered that many people would stay back to consult with the doctors. We believed that an aware customer will find it easy to choose us for his surgical needs. The success of Public Forums branded ‘Let’s Talk’ was an example of how the Medical teams in the hospital worked with the sales and marketing teams to engage with the local residents.
Soon we also introduced an interactive website, uploaded the content of these lectures for people to download and also allowed them the freedom to write to the doctors, create their own pages and share relevant content with each other. The effort was to create a community of people, who suffered from a particular condition and to allow them to interact with each other as well as with the hospital.
While at Max Healthcare, we initiated a branded Neighbourhood Program for the adjacent South Delhi localities, which offered special benefits to folks living around the medical centre. The benefits included discounts on the hospital’s regular charges, priority services and a dedicated family physcian to take care of day to day needs of the residents. The local residents were required to enrol for the program and were issued nicely designed cards, which served to identify them at the hospital counters.
To remain top of the mind and ensure good relations with the local communities we supported by advertising in the local resident directories, sponsoring local events and signing up advertising space with in the communities.
The engagement with the local communities is an investment that a hospital should not think twice about. It brings returns much faster than big ticket advertising and fancy launch parties. It also costs a lot less.
All it takes is dogged persistance, patience and a bit of luck.
The images are sourced from www.flickr.com